This weekend, the legendary Coach Skip Bertman, my coach, will be honored with a statue outside of the new Alex Box Stadium on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. It is a long time coming. Without a doubt, his legacy casts a powerful shadow over the LSU Baseball program, the men he coached, the fans he inspired, and the game of college baseball.
It is hard to fully capture with words what his impact is all about. I have been fortunate in my career to be around the top coaches in their sport, and he is one of the best. In any sport. If you want an inside look into what motivated him, please check out the podcast that I did with Coach (The Secrets to Winning with Skip Bertman). He raised the bar, changed the expectations, and shifted the competitive landscape. That is what the best do.
As I reflect, here are a few things that I learned from Coach that you may find valuable in your performance life:
They Don’t Build Statues for Losers
Winners win and learn how to win. Winners do not remind fans about victories in the past as validation for their abilities. They demonstrate winning today and in every element of their program. Winning is a learned habit and learn to win the level you are at.
The Little Things Build the Big Things
LSU Baseball, during the 5 national title run in 10 years, was never the most talented team, but we were the best team. We focused on the little things that many assume will be there in the heat of the moment. However, when you assume the details will be taken care of, they never are. For us, we drilled the details. Even during practices at the College World Series, we executed the simplest tasks on the field that a season of play typically overlooks. Never overlook the details as they build the biggest moments of execution. We painted our own screens, manicured our own field, took pride in the concession stand. The colors of shoes did not matter, but we wanted our opponent to see the precision of our details and be so impressed by our commitment that it made them question their own preparation.
Know Your People
Coach Bertman was brilliant at knowing the underlying psychology of each player on his teams and had a developmental plan for each player. The greatest thing you can invest is your love and attention to another. It did not matter if you were a preferred walk-on like myself or an All-American recruit, he invested his time to get to know you. As a result, he knew what motivated each player, how to push them, and then drove them to find their personal success. Do not try and change people; build them.
No One is Immune
Status does not prevent you from being coached to the fullest extent. For Coach, it did not matter what your role was, how many personal accolades you received, or what round you were projected to be drafted, you were going to get his full effort. Coach each person on your team with the same intensity. What is important is that you have to know that player and make it unique to them.
Winning Matters so Trust Your System or Process
LSU Baseball followed The System. Nick Saban and the Alabama Football team follows The Process. Both have an end goal – to invest yourself in the process so intensely that winning and success takes care of itself. Way too many people get invested in “will this work?” or “how quickly is this going to work?” Both of those get too focused on the end result. See yourself winning and embracing the victory but invest all you have in making your process the best, bullet-proof system that you can execute.
Sacrifices are Critical
Every Friday night, our team would meet in old, musty conference rooms in the basement of an old dorm and review “Yellow Books”. They were the blueprints and contributing elements of The System. For me, the mental side of the game was how I could keep up, especially with my lack of talent. I loved learning about the game. Coach used to say, “when you leave my program, you will have a PhD in baseball.” It didn’t matter if you were a one-year player or a five-year survivor like me, you made the sacrifices to learn and earn the PhD in baseball. Giving up a Friday night in college is a sacrifice, but championships are built through sacrifice.
Teach the Why
I watch too many leaders teach the “what” but never teach the “why” to their teams. If you spend the time to teach the why, you develop better contributors. Team members want to know what you know and the logic behind your decisions. It takes more time than simply doing it yourself, but provide the level of insight so they can make better decisions.
Build a Community
For Coach Bertman, he invested in building a community of fans and supporters. That meant attending and speaking at every organization possible, bringing his players to connect to the potential fans, and allowing access so fans could see the personal side of the players. For the players, it taught us etiquette, business connections, and allowed us to think about life after baseball. For Coach, he was as invested in the former players (even before his arrival) as he was his current team. As a coach, your alumni matter. Do not be intimated by them or worried about their actions. Invite them into your program as they will be your biggest fans if you treat them with respect. There was always an open invitation for former players to come back to visit, and it was expected that we knew who they were and when they played. It was not lip service. Coach felt that our success was built upon the contributions of those that came before us.
Set Clear Expectations and Do Not Apologize for Them
Playing for Coach Bertman was an honor. Playing baseball at LSU was a responsibility that I never took lightly. The expectations were clear: You did not walk the lead-off batter in an inning, you took the extra base with a ball in the dirt, you played hard, and so much more. Make no apologies for making mistakes; learn from them. Today, the LSU Baseball program is still a reflection of prior generations who invested so much into the program. It is a blast to watch them compete, dominate at the Major League level, and contribute in the business world.
I hope that future generations that visit Alex Box Stadium spend time at the statue of Coach Bertman and see “A Builder of Men, an Architect of Champions.” Thank you, Coach!